Thursday, December 17, 2009

All The Way to Cambodia, Part 3

Life continues to be a whirlwind, but I wanted to continue the series on my time in Cambodia. As I went back to read some of the journaling I did, the memories came in like a flood. I'm going to type out what I scribbled in my journal and then add photos with commentary at the end.


IF you missed part one or part two, click here:


This would be our 2nd official ministry day, and it was as packed as the first. I actually didn't even finish writing about the first day, but I plan to incorporate some of those memories in a future post with a bit of a different theme. So, on with the next day according to my journal with a few little notes added in parenthesis...


"Friday, October 30th

My word for the day--overwhelmed. So tired. I feel numb and nauseous...drained. It's not as much physical tired as it is wiped out, though my legs have been throbbing in a funky way since the long airplane ride.

The day started out with "candy in a cup," Tony's word (our team leader). The hotel coffee tasted phenomenal, but how could extremely strong coffee mixed with sweetened condensed milk be anything but wonderful? It sent us all soaring, so getting on a bus for a long drive was probably not the best use of caffeinated energy, but that was the order of things, so...

Our destination was World Relief's CREDIT offices, and from there we would drive to another village to see what that organization is doing there. (I'll tell you more about CREDIT later in the post). The drive there and then to the villages, completely overwhelmed me, both good and bad. To see allll the people, the traffic again and a great deal of poverty nonstop for miles...then to drive into the lush rural areas, only to see skinny cows (I could see their bones!) and young kids bathing in dirty water--overload.

Right before we were to cross the Mekong River, hoards of people were selling whatever they had to sell to the long line of vehicles waiting for the ferry. One person after another surrounded our bus, pleading us to buy from them: watches, sunglasses, fish, fruit, fried crickets...all kinds of snacks and goods. Young children tapped on the window and begged for money. Older kids held up younger kids, pointing to them and then to their mouths showing how hungry they were. It absolutely broke my heart. Not in a describable way either. It ushered in a great big bag of mixed emotions and questions (some of which I'm still processing).

We finally crossed the river, and it was disgusting. So dirty. Made me sad when I saw all the shacks on the side with laundry hanging out to dry, I'm sure after having been washed in that water. "Why is the water so dirty? And why can't someone clean it up?" I thought.

Then it was the same scene on the other side of the river with more desperate sales and pleas. (We even gave into one, which I'll tell you about in a bit). It exhausted my senses. I wanted to just stop the day right then, go back to my room and try to make some sense of things. But we'd only just begun.

After we got to the CREDIT offices, we were desperate for a restroom. Well, the staff was so incredibly courteous, and we were under a time restraint, so they led us all to different bathrooms. Unbeknownst to me, not all "bathrooms" are "restrooms" in Cambodia. I stood there, mouth gaping open, looking at this porcelain hole in the ground, and I thought, Okay, no way. I thought maybe he guided me to the men's room, but I later learned after some chuckles from a few teammates that this would be the norm when we were out and about, and I was ever so blessed to have a "squatty potty" this nice to behold. Luckily, by that time, the type of toilets I was accustomed to became available, so I took full advantage. That would at least give me some time to adjust to the thought of the other, seeing as it was a new concept for me. (I promise I'm not a prima-donna, just not very adventurous. As many would see this is a cool, adventurous thing to experience...me, not so much.)

From the offices on, the roads were too bumpy to reach the province we were visiting, so the team split into two trucks to face the terrain. The men on the team got in the back, and the staff would only allow the ladies inside the cab. So cheek over hip, we cooperated. Thank goodness, we are a close knit team! The roads were so rugged, we could not feel our bumpies or our legs after about halfway there. I'm sure the guys on the back got a good workout as well.

We finally reached the Prey Veng province and as we walked into the village, we were greeted with applause and cheering. Not because we were rock stars, but probably because they had been waiting on us to get the meeting started. (Not only that, it seemed to me that Cambodians are very hospitable). While they were incredibly good hosts to us, most kept their distance. I didn't find out until we were on our way home that we were the first Westerners most of them had ever seen. Lots of staring, looking, searching to see who we were, seemingly to see if we were trustworthy or not. I don't know. It was so unbearingly hot and sticky, mainly sticky, and it sapped the energy right out of us. The kids in the village were so shy, maybe even scared, but they seemed to enjoy the young ones, especially Matt (young college guy), and Victor, (our one youth traveling with us).

As we were leaving, it felt awkward. A few kids came up to me and started to talk. I thought they were finally warming up to me, because I had been smiling at them the whole time (the kids were so cute, I could hardly take my eyes off of them). Our interpreter told me later that they were hoping I'd give them money, understandably so, because begging is a way of life for many of them. CREDIT staff members told us that this is one of the issues they cover as they go into villages...training them not to beg from others, but to work and budget instead.

We had lunch in town and were greeted with many stares from the townsfolk. The food had a REALLY peculiar smell, a smell unfamiliar and unpleasant to me. But I had determined I would try whatever I was served (other than insects) and was glad I did. Wow, it was fantastic, so good, and it left me feeling healthy. The smells were probably some type of seasoning that I'm not used to. If it was something bad or gross, I DON't EVER want to know about it.

The drive back to the hotel was more of the same emotion, only with extreme drain...same scenes, different observations. I wanted to crash, as I felt like it was time to go to bed. But we still had one last stop for the day: Toul Sleng prison. I'll have to write about it tomorrow, because I'm too tired now. In just about 6 hours, it will be time to get up again, and that's when the work we came here to do will get started. I feel like so much has happened already. What else, Lord?"


Our team on the bus as we approached the ferry to cross the Mekong River.
I'm in the back hidden somewhere. ;)

Vendors galore braving the heat...



Yes, these are the fried crickets I was telling you about...
They must be popular, cuz lots of vendors were selling them.

Our youngest member of the team asked to try one, so we bought a bag full.
The smell in the bus was never the same after that.

Here Victor goes, and with a smile on his face. Several of our team members followed suit. Gives whole new meaning to the Scripture,
"And a little child shall lead them..."
I do not regret even in the teeny tiniest least that I was not one of the team members to try a fried cricket. Besides, fried foods are fattening, and a woman my age has to watch her figure, right? :D

This young boy went to every window in the bus showing this dead lizard. Then he would point to his little brother's mouth. I don't know if he was trying to say that he was going to have to feed him that if we didn't give him money, or if he was offering it in exchange for money. His eyes looked straight into my heart, piercing it in a way I've never experienced before. Still makes my stomach ache to picture the scene, and not just because of fried crickets and dead lizards.

This "fruity" hat amazed me. I can't even balance a book on my head!

This was the view of the homes as we crossed the Mekong River.

After we divided into the two trucks that would transport our team, this is a taste of the road conditions the whole way to the village. My friend Jackie wrote that the "potholes were so big the pigs could bathe in them."


This is the villagers as they waited for us. They had chairs set aside under shade trees to help protect us from the heat. I'm sure they sacrificed and squished more than usual under that one tree to accomodate us.

Marganne & Jackie were not shy. They took off their shoes and sat right next to their sisters in Prey Veng.


The villagers stayed engaged as the CREDIT staff taught them about such things as credits and debits, luxury items vs. necessary items, etc, applauding them throughout the presentation. This is the description of CREDIT from World Relief's website:
"An essential mandate of World Relief is to relieve poverty. To achieve this goal, while ensuring sustainable economic development, WR Cambodia supports CREDIT, a licensed micro-finance institution established by World Relief. By providing small loans to clients across the country, as well as financial education and training, WR Cambodia is able to support cottage industries and alleviate poverty while ensuring dignity to those we serve."


As you can see, a good majority of the villagers listening to the presentation are women and children. This is partly because many of their husbands are working, but also because many of them are single mothers providing solely for their families. This particular day is a Cambodian holiday, so even some men are present, and of course, the kids are out of school.

As the presentation is going on, many of the children and men became interested in Matt, and we almost had to peel him away from the crowd at the end.

These young men teaching on the CREDIT staff were so well-trained at keeping the attention of the crowd, and they used good visuals to help illustrate the new concepts.

LUNCH! (fish soup, rice, fried fish, chicken, yum!)


On our way into the Tuol Sleng Prison,
where I would never have guessed what I was about to see & feel...

We wanted to visit this museum so that we could better understand the Cambodian culture, as well as be able to relate to the brokenness the World Relief staff bears on a daily basis. To learn that a body of buildings which used to educate high school kids was later used as a security prison to hold over 17,000 men, women & children in a 4-year period blew me away. The tour guide showed us how the prisoners were enclosed with electrical barbed wire fences, and the old classrooms were used as torture chambers. We saw the various torturing methods used, and I became so sick to my stomach, I thought I would vomit. The cabinet of broken skulls about did me in, as well as walls of pictures of those who were held captive (lots of children) and later killed.

As I said at the beginning of this post, overwhelmed and drained could not even begin to describe the way I felt this day. I could not even imagine taking in another sight, smell or sound, or even processing another thought. But, this was only day 2 of 7 more to come...God's work in and through me would continue in unexpected ways.

***Most photos taken by Jackie Mosley & Marganne Pearce. Thank YOU!

9 friends shared a comment:

Denise said...

You truly bless my heart, love you.

Dee Yoder said...

Oh, Laura, this is so interesting and heartbreaking at the same time. I can't wait to read about the prison and the rest of your adventure. Wow.

(I came over here to thank you for your SWEET comment about our little rag tag choir, but I'm so engrossed in your journal, I almost forgot! So: thank you! HUGS)

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

My heavens...

Such a rich tapestry of remembrance; almost had feelings of being there myself. Thank you for this window into an experience that obviously has changed/shaped you forever.

Merry Christmas, friend. May the peace of Christ rule in your heart as we walk the Bethlehem road and beyond.

peace~elaien

LisaShaw said...

I came by dear sister to wish you and your family a Merry CHRISTmas and a blessed New Year and lo and behold came upon a very full sharing here and wow love the photos. When I return to blogging I will be back to catch up with you.

Enjoy your family time and enjoy the LORD. Love you.

Faith Imagined said...

Wow! What an amazing life experience. It sounds like it was very emotional and heartbreaking. Sometimes I feel so guilty living in "luxury" here in the US while people are starving in other countries. I am still working this issue out with God.

Thank you for sharing your story and the pictures.

Melissa said...

Without seeing first-hand, I cannot imagine the impact seeing all of these things does to your heart. Horror stories lived everyday. A child goes hungry. People fending for themselves in ways we, Americans, believe we'd ever do. Most heartbreaking, to know this exist in this world. How we need our Savior! Thank you for this post...

Irritable Mother said...

Somehow, I don't think "overwhelmed" and "drained" can possibly be adequate descriptions of what you must have been feeling on this day.
We cannot fully see, nor fully understand. But we can trust that God is good.
Looking forward to reading more.

3 Blessings said...

Thank you for sharing this experience.
Merry Christmas to you and yours.
Blessings,
Amy

Peter Stone said...

What a day. And so much to take in during one day, the poverty, different culture, fried crickets! the children, and the prison is so sad. Thanks for the photos, they add so much depth to your diary.